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CIA Says Economic Woes, Ethnic Tensions Could Split Ukraine

January 26, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. intelligence officials are worried that economic crisis and ethnic tensions in nuclear-armed Ukraine could lead to a breakup of the former Soviet republic.

CIA Director R. James Woolsey said Tuesday that secessionist forces in Ukraine might appeal to Moscow for support. That would put further strain on already uneasy relations between Ukraine and Russia, he said.

In an oral review of key trouble spots around the world, Woolsey put special emphasis on what he called a ″potential crisis″ in Ukraine, where a significant minority in some regions populated by ethnic Russians favor secession.

Woolsey did not specifically refer to a reported new U.S. intelligence analysis of Ukraine, but his remarks echoed the study’s main theme: economic distress and ethnic tensions could lead to a partitioning of the nation and to conflict with Russia.

″The celebration of Ukrainian independence has given way to disillusionment as a result of economic mismanagement and political drift,″ Woolsey told an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

″Reform has been nonexistent, energy shortages have become a way of life, the inflation rate for December was 90 percent and nearly half of Ukraine’s citizens are living below the poverty level,″ he said.

Woolsey also expressed concern about economic distress - especially the threat of hyperinflation - in Russia. On the prospect of ever-increasing rates of inflation in Russia, he said: ″If it even begins to occur it would be a very heavy blow″ to President Boris Yeltsin’s efforts at democratic reform.

Woolsey said a further sign of trouble in Ukraine was the outcome of a recent election in Crimea, the only region in Ukraine where ethnic Russians comprise a majority.

A pro-separatist candidate who has endorsed Crimea’s eventual reunification with Russia won nearly 40 percent of the vote in the first round of a presidential race and is expected to win the runoff election next week, the CIA director said.

″Any move toward secession will lead to confrontation between the Ukrainian and Crimean leadership,″ he said, adding that the secessionist forces probably would appeal to the Russian government for support.

That would be a dangerous development, particularly in view of Ukraine’s possession of an estimated 1,800 strategic nuclear warheads. President Leonid Kravchuk agreed during President Clinton’s recent trip to Kiev to turn over all the nuclear weapons to Russia, but the plan has yet to be implemented.

Indeed, Woolsey noted pointedly that the U.S.-Russia-Ukraine nuclear accord is being heavily criticized by hardliners and nationalists in Ukraine, and is being examined by the Ukrainian parliament.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that a comprehensive new U.S. intelligence study, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, forecasts that Ukraine’s worsening economy will lead to ethnic conflict that will provoke the nation’s partition into two states and create a new dispute over the nuclear weapons.

Woolsey was not asked specifically about the Post report. When pressed by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., for a more straightforward estimate of whether Ukraine was headed for disaster, Woolsey said he could only do that in a closed session.